The University of the Western Cape (UWC) alumnus embarked on a seven-year journey, penning his own experiences of apartheid and oppression and chose to tell the story, which culminated in a book - My Apartheid Diary.
“There were so many times when I became so agitated by some of the comments and statements that people make about our suffering and that of our forebears. These would make me cringe and vehemently protest that their rendition was incorrect and did not fully convey our experiences. How would they know how most black people lived under apartheid, slavery, and colonialism? Even today, we have a political party leader who publicly claims that colonialism was not that bad, and without it, there wouldn’t have been development,” said Crombie.
“Insensitivities such as these made me realise that we need to write our own stories and embark on this journey of tireless research and painstakingly gathering information to give a more succinct context to our story. This realisation also brought into focus for me the African proverb which says, ‘Until the lions write their own stories, the stories of the hunt will always favour the hunter’.”
Although the book's title talks about the experiences of a person classified as ‘coloured’ from 1960 to 1990, the content starts the journey much earlier, bringing in the context of colonialism and slavery. It narrates how these traumatic events were instrumental in setting the scene of continued subjugation and its impact on the political landscape.
“It was, therefore, a necessity to take that step back into history when some of our forefathers came, when our indigenous people were here, the cross-pollination, inter-marriage, and cross interaction of all those people who brought us into being. Our makeup is of different people in this country. Some were the indigenous peoples; others were slaves. Some arrived as political exiles, the African tribes, and others as settlers or colonists.”
Crombie sketches the journey of the Khoe and Gorinqaikona tribe, the political exiles, including Sheikh Yusuf of Makassar. He speaks about leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and some of the Umkhonto we Sizwe cadres such as Ashley Kriel, Anton Fransch, Coline Williams, and Robbie Waterwitch.
“This book depicts partly my lived experiences as a witness to so much oppression under apartheid - from childhood to adulthood. It is also the experiences of my peers, family, community, countrymen, and those who have been marginalised and oppressed. Mine is just one of so many stories which lay unnarrated, unwritten and all but left out of the public discourse of this country’s history.”
Among the degrees Crombie obtained from UWC is a Master’s in Public Administration. This month he donated copies to his alma mater and believes it's critical to pass on the information to the next generation. He voiced his gratitude to the University for its role in his and many of his fellow graduates’ academic and political awakening and evolution. He said they arrived at the institution as wide-eyed young people with radical and diverse outlooks on the political situation in their country. They left the institution as well nurtured and well-grounded individuals who could hold their own at different levels of society, playing significant roles in South Africa’s transition to democracy and beyond.
“When we sit in company with some of our relatives, I don’t think the younger generation can always envision the past when we tell them. Some may be tired of hearing those stories, but when we are no more of this world, the story must remain so that they can understand the situation which our people lived under. It is not to seek pity but should be a mirror to them and the broader South African populace to realise the pain, hurt and sorrow brought by political oppression.”
The book also touches on the African contributions to politics, language, arts, culture, cuisine, architecture, and even warfare.
Crombie said the British and the Dutch came to South Africa and experienced much from this melting pot of cultures and communities which they eventually made their own. A case in point is the herbs used for centuries for ailments that have been taken by the well-developed economies, patented, packaged, and returned in medicine and tablet formats.
Crombie explained that the book is a catalyst for so many other stories and individual lived experiences to be told. His main objective is “that the book must be a tool that following generations can utilise as an instrument of how their country and people revolted against severe subjugation and adversity”.